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State Of GOP Race: No Momentum For Candidates

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State Of GOP Race: No Momentum For Candidates

Presidential Race

State Of GOP Race: No Momentum For Candidates

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And with fewer than 8 percent of the delegates awarded so far, the GOP primary campaign are going on far longer than anyone expected.

NPRS Mara Liasson reports on how Republicans feel about that.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: In Michigan, Mitt Romney had a near death experience but he squeaked out a narrow victory. And that, says veteran Republican strategist Ed Rogers, has calmed some of the anxiety in Republican circles about Romneys strength as a general election candidate.

ED ROGERS: Mitt Romney did what he needed to do to give more certainty and more clarity to the race. He dodged a bullet. It was an ugly win. It's not over. Santorum is still very competitive.

LIASSON: Romney is still a fragile frontrunner, but a win is a win, says Republican consultant Whit Ayres.

WHIT AYERS: Whenever Mitt Romney's back is to the wall and he absolutely has to win, he's come through so far - first in Florida, now in Michigan. So yesterday's results will tamp down the call for a new candidate, at least for a week.

LIASSON: At least for a week. And Ayres isn't being flip. He's just pointing out that there hasn't been any momentum in this Republican race. Candidates win one round and then go on to lose the next.

In six days there will be another set of contests, when 10 states vote on Super Tuesday. Ohio is the biggest prize and the biggest test for Romney. It's a must-win battleground for the fall - filled with the kind of white working class voters Romney's had trouble with. To connect with those voters, Ed Rogers says, Romney needs to deal with a problem he created for himself with awkward comments about his wealth.

ROGERS: Every candidate develops a negative stereotype. And almost always that negative stereotype is managed, not solved. He's not going to solve his aloofness and some of the vocabulary and quips he has that suggest he is a wealthy man. He's just got to watch it, or he proves the stereotype that he is a wealthy, aloof, disconnected soul.

LIASSON: Romney has admitted he's made mistakes, such as when he said his wife had a couple of Cadillacs, or on Sunday at the Daytona speedway when he was asked if he followed NASCAR.

MITT ROMNEY: Not as closely as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners.

LIASSON: The problem isn't that Romney is rich - so was FDR, JFK, and the Bushes. But it's not good to sound out of touch. As for Rick Santorum, he needed a win in Michigan as much as Romney needed to avoid a loss. And according to Whit Ayres, Santorum has also exposed his own vulnerabilities.

WHIT AYRES: Rick Santorum came close in Michigan, to his great credit, but he came out of the contest diminished as a national candidate. He started off running against sex and ended up running against college. Those are not the moves of a world-class politician. So he should be an easier contestant for Mitt Romney to beat after Michigan than before.

LIASSON: Santorum seems to understand this. On Tuesday night, just days after calling the president a snob for suggesting all young people go to college, he praised his 93-year-old mother for her advanced degrees and for working outside the home.

RICK SANTORUM: She's someone who - who did get a college education in the - in the 1930s, and was a nurse, and got a graduate's degree even as a nurse, and worked full time.

LIASSON: The latest vote counts available in Michigan show despite Romney's popular vote victory, Santorum and Romney will probably get 15 delegates each. That's because Michigan awards its delegates proportionally instead of winner take all. There are a lot more proportional primaries coming up, says Republican demographer John B. Morgan, because the Republican National Committee created new rules, thinking a longer process, similar to what the Democrats had in 2008, would be a good thing.

JOHN B. MORGAN: They are getting what they designed. They are getting a process that is going to go on through March. With a Romney victory in Michigan, the idea of a contested convention is even more unlikely. But you will still see the contest continue because there is no reason for Santorum, Gingrich or Paul to get out. Later in March there are still some contests where they could still score some delegates and keep this thing going and going.

LIASSON: And going, turning it into a longer, harder slog than even the Romney campaign had anticipated. While most Republicans now believe there probably won't be a contested convention - the scenario where no one gets the necessary 1144 delegates - the grinding Republican primary is delaying the day when the nominee can turn his full attention to President Obama and the fall campaign.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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